The Art and Science of Agenda Building
The Advisory Board
The first step for our Advisory Board is to start shaping the overall direction for the conference—in other words, trying to make some best guesses about what topics we should be covering and trying to gauge how much time we likely need to spend on each. Our scope is ultimately limited by two things: the amount of physical space we have in the venue and the total duration of the conference. At the same time, there are more things to try and cover every year, so we end up having to make some tough choices.
This first step starts almost right after the previous year’s conference when we look at ratings and attendance numbers for each of the sessions and masterclasses. We have that data going back several years, so we can start to pick out some trends like topic areas that are becoming more or less well-attended, for example. We also look at some audience data—which verticals delegates work in, for instance.
Then, we start to gather input from across the rest of the industry. This is mostly by way of informal meetings and conversations with individual identity architects and developers, but also through industry and standards bodies both directly within the identity sector and adjacent to it, and vendors.
The Call for Presentations
By the time we get to October, we have enough to build out a top-level of topics to inform the Call for Presentations. The intention is to provide sufficient guidance to potential speakers, without constraining them too much.
While all of this is going on, we also start forming the content committee. The committee—who form a significant part of our advisory board—is refreshed each year, and consists of subject matter experts drawn from right across the community. To align with our changing topics, the composition of the committee changes slightly from year to year. We’ll invite members of standards committees, enterprise developers, independent experts and consultants, and more—it’s a very wide range of backgrounds and specialties.
The Call for Presentations typically closes, as it did this year, in early January. This is about as late as we can go to give us sufficient time to finalize and publicize the agenda to help people make informed and timely decisions about attending while ensuring that presentation content is up-to-date and relevant.
The Review Process
Proposals are always assigned to at least two reviewers, and as Conference Chair, I will also review every proposal. It’s hard to generalize about how we review and grade submissions. Proposals that are clearly product pitches are discouraged and don’t do well—and we’re getting pretty good at picking up the ones that are in disguise! But we do recognise that if someone has a fundamentally new approach to solving a particular problem, that does have value if presented correctly.
Proposals that have a crisp and well-focused abstract—and maybe introduce just a little humor—will typically do better. It can also help to explain clearly who the audience for your presentation will be (Is it highly technical? Aimed at a business audience? Or something else?).
Diversity, in all its incarnations, is also important to Identiverse. New speakers bring fresh perspectives. Different faces and backgrounds resonate with different people. We welcome a broad range of potential presenters to put proposals in, and we will keep in mind the balance within individual panels, across blocks of content, and across the agenda as a whole. By the time we’re done, we sometimes have a few slots left to fill, and in order to get particular expertise on a particular topic, we might invite a handful of presenters to help us complete the agenda.
If you’ve attended before, you’ll also know that we have a small number of ‘sponsored’ sessions and masterclasses in the agenda. We issue the same guidance to all our sponsors and we do our best to make sure they all abide by that guidance. None of the sponsored sessions should be product pitches. We expect sponsored sessions to mainly focus on real-world use cases, where possible presented by a customer. Sponsored masterclasses are in general highly technical in nature, and usually presented by a technical expert. We know from our audience surveys that both of these types of content are valuable, and all presentations—including content for sponsored slots—run through the same content review process a few weeks before the conference so we can do our best to ensure high-quality material.
So there you have it! That’s how we build our agenda: a little bit of science, a little bit of art, and a huge amount of hard work by proposers, presenters, and by the content committee. And remember, every contribution matters in making the Identiverse agenda magical, no matter if you’re part of our esteemed alumni or new and bringing a fresh perspective. Let’s give our 15th conference in Las Vegas in May 2024 an agenda to remember!